Garden Route Top 14
Knysna - Garden Route
Golf director & Head pro: Jamie Kietzmann
Assistant pro: Carel Tromp
Greenkeeper: Du Toit Maree
CRITERIA SUMMARY: Total points 76.2 out of 100
Conditioning14.9 / 20
Playability15.0 / 20
Aesthetics13.3 / 15
Design Variety11.0 / 15
Shot Values10.8 / 15
Memorability11.2 / 15
Four tees / Par 72
Yellow 6401 metres, CR73.7/136
White 5349 metres, CR71.7/136
Blue 5463 metres, CR69.2/125
Red 4819 metres, CR65.4/114
Women’s blue, CR74.7/132
Women’s red, CR70.2/123
Visitor green fee
June 1 to September 30
Affiliated R720; Non-affiliated R850
Includes golf cart and halfway house
Jack Nicklaus 2005
044 302 9677
19 (2021) & 19 (2020)
Simola is a spellbinding Jack Nicklaus signature design high in the hills above the Garden Route town of Knysna. The hotel buildings stand high on a ridge overlooking the course, with views of the Knysna Lagoon.
Simola is on such undulating terrain that golf carts are essential. They are included in the green fee. Walking the course is not easy because of some of the distances between green and tee. There’s a steep, twisting cart path with hairpin bends leading down from the pro shop to the first and tenth tees, and another long climb from the first green to the second tee. The high ridge framing the property splits the course into two distinct parts. There are 12 holes in the area below the hotel, and another six in a separate valley.
Nicklaus designed five par 5s and five par 3s. Even with all the uphill and downhill holes, Nicklaus has cleverly achieved a course where you seldom have an uneven lie.
The short holes are a feature of the layout, testing a wide range of clubs in the bag from a fairway metal at No 6 to a wedge at No 17. The par 5s are excellent, beginning with the switchback opening hole which must be one of the most challenging on the course. Three of the par 5s are played to elevated greens, and these are tough targets to hit, even with a short pitch.
The clubhouse is part of the main hotel area, and the bar on the upper floor has an outstanding view of the course below.
Additional Course Facts
61 by Brandon Cloete, 2010 club champs;
Caylum Boon, 2017 Simola Open;
George Coetzee, 2019 Vodacom Origins Final.
With all the elevation changes at Simola the result is several exciting tee shots from high vantage points, notably the par-4 second where the tee is more than 100 metres above the fairway, the long par-3 sixth, with its magnificent views over the Knysna River, and the par-4 eighth. The par-4 13th is a superb downhill hole with the green tucked away at the bottom of an attractive vale.
The Simola Hotel & Spa has accommodation for 160, a bistro-style restaurant, a spa, gym, indoor and outdoor pools. There’s a conference centre, and guests can hire mountain bikes to explore trails in the area. There are 40 two-bedroom suites a short walk from the hotel with their own lounge, kitchen and covered patio with gas braai. The hotel is six kilometres from the centre of Knysna.
An excellent short-game area, with two practice greens, alongside the 13th hole, which can be reached by cart. The teaching pro is Jamie Kietzmann.
2021 Mike Johnstone & Marion Klimmer
2020 Damian Osner & Sunette Venter
2019 Damian Osner & Ann Curling
*Osner won three years in a row
Did You Know
1/ The road up the steep hill to the Simola Hotel is the venue for three days in May each year for one of the motoring calendar’s most popular events, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb. There’s always a great parade of classic and vintage cars on view, plus some souped-up machines. The record time is 35.528 seconds, not much longer than the hang time on a drive from the elevated second tee at Simola.
2/ The Sunshine Tour has visited Simola often as a venue for its Vodacom Origins pro-am tournaments.
3/ George Coetzee opened with 61 (32-29; 2 eagles 7 birdies) to win 2019 Vodacom Origins Final. In 2016 Origins, Ockie Strydom closed with 61 to finish second behind Justin Harding. It did not equal course record as some forward tees were used. Ryan Cairns shot 62 in 2012 Origins final round – six birdies in last seven holes – and beat Vaughn Groenewald in a playoff.
4/ Simola should have been the first Jack Nicklaus signature course in Africa. He first visited the site in 1995 when it was being developed by Ola Grinaker, but heavy rains in 1996 washed the topsoil from the shaped holes into the ecologically-sensitive Knysna Lagoon. The course was abandoned and a year later the estate liquidated. Fortunately the project was revived in the new millennium by the Kat Leisure Group, under CEO Avril Kaschula.
5/ Golf Digest named Simola Best New Course in 2005.
Course and Facilities Rating
Best course on the Garden Route. Spectacular scenery and surrounds, and the course is well maintained.
28 December 2022
Simola and Pezula occupy two of the most stunning golf course sites in the Garden Route, one in the hills and one on the cliffs. Both designed by Americans, both golf cart compulsory, another connection between them is possessing two of the more awkwardly challenging opening holes to begin the day on a golf tour. Both are lengthy par 5s, and not the sort of three-shot holes that gift you simple pars. I was relieved playing at Simola to learn we were starting our round on the tenth, because of work being done on the fairway bunkers at No 1. No 10 is a strong par 4, but I'd prefer to face that than a testing 500-metre par 5 that requires a solid drive, then an exceptionally good second shot to squeeze over a ridge into the fairway short of the green, so that you can see the flag for your third shot. Anything short of that ridge leaves you with a blind approach. I'd rather play it when I'm warmed up. Simola provided us with a brilliant day's golf though. It is an exceptional experience, a fabulous variety of holes, clever design features, breathtaking scenery and world-class greens.
26 May 2022
Simola is a breathtaking experience. The current conditioning is excellent, with the greens and fairways among the best in the Southern Cape. Simola provides interesting design variety, challenging approaches and well placed bunkers. The five par 3s are varied in length and slope, with the sixth being stroke 1. The back tee here plays well over 200m. Many of the par 4s begin from elevated tees, No 2 being the most memorable. The views across the course are outstanding. There are five par 5s to provide scoring opportunities, and the uphill 18th is a good finishing hole. Knysna is an excellent golf destination, with three varied courses to play.
20 May 2022
Lovely course layout. Kikuyu grass taking over, needs a little more care.
28 March 2022
Spectacular views, and the forests on the estate feel like something out of the USA. I love Jack Nicklaus courses, other than having to rake his large bunkers. Simola has a bit of everything to the design.
01 February 2022
I’m yet to have a poor experience at Simola and have played the course many times. The conditioning isn’t at the same level as Fancourt but the course is different and its magnificence lies in the undulations and use of elevation across 18 holes. There are no noticeably weak holes. Greens were in excellent condition.
30 January 2022
What an experience and pleasure to play this course with its tremendous views of the Heads and the Knysna Lagoon.
28 January 2022
Those who know Simola will be familiar with its fabulous white sand complexes (93 bunkers, many built to help keep players safe from stray golf balls in specific areas on a narrow layout). But over time these evolve and the sand deteriorates. In 2021 Simola completed their front nine bunker restoration project, improving aesthetics, playability and maintenance (redoing drainage and replacing sand) under the supervision of Nicklaus senior design associate Sean Quinn (he has done a similar project at Pearl Valley). Previously after heavy rain it would take hours to pump out water and salvage collapsed bunker faces. These sheer faces have been lowered to leave a flatter playing surface. Some out-of-play bunkers are being removed, with other fairway bunkers converted to waste areas with low edges where golfers can ground their clubs (on the fourth, ninth and 12th). It's estimated the total bunker footprint will be reduced by 20-30%. This should negate the slow play for which Simola has a reputation, and increase enjoyment of the course. Simola had one of their best December holiday seasons with 3800 rounds.
14 January 2022
Driving up the winding old road from the Knysna Lagoon to the Simola resort, the anticipation builds. Expectations are high for a Top 20 course. And Simola delivers with amazing views and a well manicured course. It has a few fun holes and is great to play on holiday, especially if you catch it on a good day as then it is not particularly difficult. However, I suspect a big defence for the course (in addition to the numerous bunkers) are the prevailing coastal winds. An additional par 3 and a par 5 on the back nine deviate from the traditional layout but maintain a 72 par. Big hitters need to show restraint in chasing the driveable par 4s and eagles on par 5s as there is a lot of sand and danger to offer protection. The best part of the day for me was having a crack at the green on the elevated 321-metre par-4 second . . . just fun! What could be improved: a course marshal to assist the holiday hackers keep up with play!
02 January 2022
A wonderful experience. Service outstanding, Aesthetics breathtaking, with a golf course to match. I suggest a stay in the hotel to complete the experience. You will not be disappointed. Get into the health spa to warm up before golf.
28 September 2021
The course has become damp and muddy as we enter winter, so it is playing long and divots are deep. Best to tee off later in the day when it's warm, not first thing in the morning! The long opening par 5 hole is particularly slushy, which makes it an even tougher proposition than it usually is. I was surprised to see golf carts allowed on the fairways as there are steep slopes leading off the cart paths, and there were serious skid marks everywhere from carts attempting to climb back up the slopes. The greens remain superb, and are a feature of this memorable layout.
22 May 2021
Simola is a fantastic experience and while the course sees a lot of traffic, once you tee off on the first you get the sense you are out on your own, with wide fairways and established trees framing many holes. The course was wet when we played it, making it longer than usual on the front nine. But once the sun came out and the course had dried out, it was transformed into a ball striker's heaven. Simola requires good shots, and the undulating fairways reward position off the tee. I was impressed with the conditioning all round. As always the staff at the estate and golf course were amazing.
09 May 2021
10 out of 10 for this spectacular layout and course. Conditioning at its peak most of the year.
06 April 2021
Simola is looking in great shape following good rains and well looked after.
20 December 2020
Course is in a wonderful condition and the greens are superb.
Willem van der Merwe
18 November 2020
Simola offers one of the most challenging bunker experiences the average golfer will face on a South African golf course. They get into your head as early as the second hole, and defend this layout immensely well. The creatively designed Jack Nicklaus bunker complexes are a magnificent feature, and only by managing to avoid them will you get the better of this scenic wonder. There are close to 100 bunkers and they are spacious and deep. Crucially, they come into play on so many holes, both off the tee and around the greens, that you need to have the management skills to shape your shots past them. My favourite complex is the large expanse of sand which intimidatingly fronts the par-5 12th green like the barrier of a fortress. And a similar challenge awaits at the uphill par-5 15th. Your heart is in your mouth as you watch your approach shots attempt to scale them.
18 October 2020
Simola is a spectacular course to play. Sadly the bunkers, a major feature of this Nicklaus course, were in variable condition. Some with soft thick sand and others with so little sand that playing a successful bunker shot was near impossible.
04 October 2020
World-class course; great design variety and aesthetically easy on the eye. Some tough holes and challenging approaches. A great course to test your golfing skills.
22 April 2020
Wonderful layout, beautiful views! The course was perfect, particularly the greens.
27 March 2020
Very good Nicklaus signature course, with spectacular views and elevation changes. Great design variety, making it an interesting and testing course to play. Condition usually outstanding.
19 February 2020
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